History of Teaching

| illustration by Charles Marsh |

I think everyone likes the fact that our magazine honors the top teachers in the area every year. There’s no group of people that deserves it more. So I thought it might be interesting to find out how the teaching profession actually developed throughout history. If you’re like me, I bet you assumed that it probably began with the ancient Greeks. Nope. It actually started when humans started questioning the world around them. Think about it. The first person to see a sunset was probably like, “Well, this ain’t good.” So as these early humans gradually started learning about new things just through observation, they would pass it on to their children, and therefore became our first teachers.

But the trouble was that none of the information that they were passing on could be memorialized in writing. Cavemen could only express themselves by drawing all over the walls at their house. This really upset the wives because most of the drawings clashed with the furniture. So instead of painting, cavemen, in order to keep marital harmony, developed a crude alphabet and took up reading and writing.

This went on for quite a while until Moses came down from the mountaintop and started complaining to his buddies about how difficult it was to take dictation on stone tablets. It took him more than two weeks just to carve the word “thou.” There had to be something better. Well sure enough, while the ancient Greeks were pillaging Egypt one day, they noticed residents were writing on a plant called papyrus, which they later decided to call paper. Greeks began putting their thoughts on this new substance, which became sort of an early form of Twitter. Great minds became involved. But as luck would have it, Aristotle was the only one who could understand Plato, and Plato was the only one that could understand Socrates. However, they were able to interpret what they learned and share it with their followers.

These men became some of the first widely known teachers. And their students soon discovered something new. Homework. Unfortunately for Socrates, his outspoken beliefs were not shared by some of the higher-ups in Athens, and he was executed. We all learned something from Socrates’ death. Knowledge is like underwear. It’s great to have but not always a good idea to show off.

Fast forward to colonial times and the early decades of the 18th century. Almost all the teachers in America were men, some of whom were farmers or innkeepers. In the early 19th century, Common schools became the forerunner of public schools. Because of the large number of schools popping up, communities turned to women to help carry the teaching load. A town leader once remarked, “Why pay a man $22 a month when a female could do the work more successfully at one-third of the price.” Thought you might get a kick out of that one.

The state of education is different these days. Occasionally, a diploma means absolutely nothing. A cat could walk across a keyboard and earn some of the online college degrees being offered. Of course, “open carry” on campus should guarantee a few more A’s. But a great education will always be the result of having a great teacher. And throughout history, they’ve shared one quality. They all knew if there was gum in your mouth.